The district attorney in Charlotte, N.C., has recused himself from the case against a police officer charged in the killing of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed man the officer shot to death last weekend.
Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray has referred the case to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, saying that he wanted to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.
Before becoming district attorney in 2010, Murray was in private practice with a pair of defense attorney’s now representing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Officer Randall Kerrick who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Ferrell’s killing. Murray had been a partner with George Laughrun and Michael Greene for 14 years before being elected to the district attorney’s office.
Kerrick is accused of gunning down Ferrell in a bizarre episode in which a panicked woman called 911 to report Ferrell as a robber when he showed up on her doorstep looking for help after his car crashed along a nearby road.
In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, Murray’s office said that while the case does not present a clear conflict of interest, “avoiding even the appearance of impropriety is essential to maintaining the public’s trust.”
“In cases that have a substantial impact on the community, however, the elected District Attorney's involvement in every stage of the prosecution is crucial. The nature of the case against Mr. Kerrick is such that the community will be affected by any and all decisions regarding the prosecution and final disposition of the case,” the statement says. “It would be impossible for Mr. Murray to avoid involvement in the case if prosecuted by his office. Further, it is critical that the family of the victim, the defendant, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the citizens of our community have confidence that the case is handled objectively and impartially by the State's attorneys.”
According to the statement, there is no actual conflict of interest, but avoiding even the appearance of impropriety is "essential."
Kerrick, 27, was arrested several hours after the early morning shooting in which he fired 12 shots at Ferrell, striking him with 10. He was released on $50,000 bond. During his first court appearance on Tuesday, Kerrick’s attorneys said he was innocent.
“His actions were justified on the night in question,” defense attorney Michael Greene said after the arraignment.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department called the shooting “excessive.”
“Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter,” the department said in a statement shortly after his arrest.
Ferrell’s killing was preceded by a frantic call to 911 by Sarah McCartney, who was alone with her 1-year-old son when she heard a banging at her door about 2:30 a.m. She ran to the door thinking that perhaps her husband was in trouble, but instead she found Ferrell standing there. McCartney immediately shut the door and called 911.
“I need help. There’s a guy breaking into my front door, he’s trying to kick it down,” McCartney is heard saying on a recording of the call released by the police. “I need help,” she said, crying.
Several minutes later three police officers arrived at her home and found Ferrell nearby. The police say that Ferrell ran toward the officers, at which time one of them fired a Taser at him. When that didn’t stop him, Kerrick opened fire.
The police would later say that Ferrell had been involved in a nasty car crash along a rural road not far from McCartney’s home and sought help from the first house that he came across.
The killing has angered local civil rights groups who believe that race and officer training may have played a role in Ferrell’s death.
Ferrell was black. McCartney, Kerrick and the other two responding officers are white. Kerrick was hired as an animal control officer with the city in 2010 and was promoted to police recruit in 2011. In 2012 he was suspended for one day, according to the police. The department has not released any information as to the nature of the suspension.
“I consider it murder,” the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, head of the Charlotte NAACP told MSNBC. “Like an execution. It was very obvious that this man had no intention to do harm. He had no weapons. He had just gotten out of a wreck. There was no reason for excessive force.”
Nantambu said there’s a history dating back to the early 1990s with police shooting and killing unarmed African-Americans and African-American motorists.
Ferrell’s killing was the sixth by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police since the start of 2012. Four of them have died, according to the Associated Press.
“It was either rage or hatred. That was not normal police procedure. You could say he panicked, but the police are supposed to be trained not to panic, to be deliberate and to think before he did what he do,” Nantambu said. “I blame a lot of this on the nature and mindset of this country right now and situations in our country right now where it seems like it’s OK to kill a black man. It’s permissible; it’s OK to kill a black man.”
The Charlotte NAACP is calling for Kerrick's to be charged with murder.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police, of which Kerrick is a member, has offered its support to the officer. The FOP is reportedly helping to pay Kerrick’s legal bills.
“As a member in good standing with the lodge, we stand in support of Officer Kerrick during this difficult time,” Todd Walther, president of Charlotte-Mecklenburg FOP Lodge #9, told the Charlotte Observer.
“The FOP respects that this continues to be an ongoing investigation and will make no comment on the investigation or facts already released in this case.”